Viacom Can't Litigate the Genie Back Into the Bottle

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I understand Viacom’s use of lawsuits as a negotiating tool to try to extract more money from the likes of Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to get “permission” to stream video to iPads (see Viacom Sues Cablevision Over iPad App and Viacom, Time Warner Cable Suspend Legal War Over iPad App).

Absolutely, you need to use any toehold you can find to your advantage. And obviously you should send in the lawyers when your product is being misappropriated. If nothing else, the Viacom case against YouTube helped push Google toward better antipiracy measures, though Google would have gotten there anyway (see Viacom Formally Appeals YouTube Decision).

But it seems to me that Viacom — in suing some of its biggest customers — is missing the forest for the trees here.

Viacom is playing hardball to get a few additional pennies per subscriber by nit-picking about the technical delivery mechanism underlying the Cablevision and TWC services.

The media company’s complaint: The video is going over the cable operators’ DOCSIS infrastructure, and then being broadcast inside the home over Wi-Fi to a tablet. Viacom is basically saying, “Hey! That’s not TV!

Viacom has legitimate concerns — one of the biggest being that viewing on iPads is outside the Nielsen ratings purview today.

But the ratings question will be sorted out. Instead of trying to wring additional fees out of affiliates on a technicality of what does or doesn’t constitute a “television service,” Viacom should be embracing these services that are going to be a major way TV is delivered (via iPads, Android devices, connected TVs and Blu-Ray players, PlayStations, Xbox 360s, etc.).

Will Viacom throw a red flag over Time Warner Cable delivering MTV, VH1, Nick and other channels over IP to a Samsung Smart TV app? That arguably would be one of the “new and/or emerging media technology platforms not expressly covered by the [existing] agreements,” as Viacom worded it in its Cablevision suit — but should that require some kind of additional payment?

It just doesn’t make sense that a content owner should get compensated differently depending on the screen size of the viewing device and/or whether it’s delivered as an IPTV stream or digital cable signal. That’s like wanting to charge more for a six-pack of Budweiser if it’s going to poured into huge, decorative beer steins instead of just chugged from the can.

Is streaming iCarly to an iPad over Wi-Fi “television”? To the next generation of Viacom’s “TV viewers,” it most definitely is.

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Follow me on Twitter: @xpangler

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